Sunday, January 31, 2010

Last Day...

...but still time to enter Clean Bookshelf Giveaway :) I'll make it easy--comment there or here, and you're in the drawing. Have a lovely last evening of January!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Songs on a Theme

Great question for the ladies over at Let the Words Flow about theme songs for their finished projects or works-in-progress. As it's a topic I've been thinking about too, seeing their responses spurred me to muse a bit on my own about the subject of novels' theme songs and songs that inspire writing. It seems that many writers are influenced by music--have it playing while they write, are inspired by certain songs, find themselves constructing soundtracks to their manuscritps. I guess I'm typical--there are pieces that are integral to both novels I've been plugging away at.

First, project one, which is revised within an inch of its life and in the process of querying its little heart out, Linden Hall. Given that it's eighteenth-century, the music I had running through my head was mainly classical, and in fact mostly earlier than the time period (for some reason, the setting seemed a bit caught in time even though it was already in the past). Geek moment--after handbell rehearsal every Thursday during draft phase, I was going to work at a local coffeeshop, and there was an early music program on public radio at the same time--chant and plainsong through baroque. So this was feeding me every week, which might account for part of the association.

If there's a single theme song to this, though, it would have be the Adagio from Corelli's Christmas Concerto, which makes an appearance in the book. In my head, it isn't the Adagio you'd find in a music score--it's the version that was arranged for my wedding three years ago. By "arranged," I mean that I crossed out about twenty measures in the middle with a dull pencil at the rehearsal and our incredible pianist, a dear friend, pulled something together for him and our violinist (the piece is for strings, not piano and violin, but it sounded amazing under his manipulation!). It's similar to the version heard in Master and Commander.

Other pieces that ran through my head often while working--Rorate and Breton Carol. For some reason, yes, they are all Christmas pieces. No, I don' t know why.

For the work in progress, there's a more definite theme song--it's the same as the title as the WIP, December, sung by Kay Starr. A 1950s Christmas number (I have an excuse this time--the story is set during, well, December), it really captured the lost, homesick ken I was aiming for with the story, set in post-WWII Chicago. Even though the piece is a bit late, I imagine it on the radio in the background. Other pieces that surface in the story itself: "(That's why they call me) Shine" (I have a fondness for the Django Reinhardt version with vocalist Freddy Taylor), "The Swan" from Carnival of Animals by Saint-Saens, and Satie's Gymnopaedies.

If you're a writer, does music inspire or make cameos in your work? What's your WIP's relationship with music? As a reader, how do you see the connection between music and prose?

Completely unrelated--but drop in at the Giveaway post, let me know you're here, and get entered to win books.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

"D" is for...

City of Dreams by Beverly Swerling (response to Historical Tapestry's Alphabet Challenge)

This is a re-read for me--I'd picked up the hefty tome years ago in a sale bin, drawn in by the lovely cover. What made me buy it, though, was a bit of subject matter intrinsic to the plot--eighteenth century medicine. It's time I confess that, in my reenacting persona, I'm the daughter of a regimental surgeon, so the facets of eighteenth-century medicine have fascinated me since I was a young girl. (And I can walk you through an amputation in a jiffy, with time to trepan a pumpkin if we're doing well on time...but that's another post for another day.)

Basic overview--sister and brother try their fortunes in New Amsterdam, and the cruel twists of fate loom large in the plotline. I liked the opening concept and that the primary relationship--brother and sister rather than parental or romantic relationship--is, in my reading experience, less explored.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the novel is the constant pushing and shoving between the surgeons, physicians, and herbalists. In my limited view of military medicine, we don't differentiate--the regiment has one surgeon who can hopefully serve the needs of the troops in surgery, physicking, and even dentistry. Civilian life, however, is allowed its specialization. Watching this play out was very interesting, and I couldn't help but think of modern medical tussles between elite and fringe branches of patient care. Thought-provoking stuff.

Many reviewers of this book noted the extreme brutality of the surgical procedures described in the book. Fair warning, things can get a bit graphic, to the point that you might feel like telling the author "Yes, I get it--it was ghastly going to the doctor. Enough!." I didn't find this, myself, but then again, I was displaying capital knives and fleems to fascinated (read: disturbed) tourists at reenactments by the time I was thirteen.

The only downside, to me, was the scope, a facet that for many readers was probably a boon. The sheer years covered in the book actually had me disengaging a bit. Still, a worthwhile read and an interesting angle on early America. Plus, gauranteed you'll get a little excited when you stumble upon "the broad way" or "wall street."

By the way--I'm still giving away a couple of very gently used books from previous Alphabet reviews. Just leave me a comment in the Clean Shelf Giveaway post and I'll enter you to win a freebie

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Writer's Desk

Still ongoing--Keep my bookshelves clean, enter in book giveaway!

Friend of mine June posted this on her blog months back...before I was doing much in the way of blogging myself. Loved her post at the time, and as she picked it up from someone else, thought I would pick it up and use it as well (please feel free to steal or borrow at will!).

This is where I usually work. Enlarge photo for pithy comments.

It's in the spare bedroom of the townhouse I currently live in with my husband and three cats (if you're my landlord, I was just kidding about three cats--make that TWO cats, per our lease. The third, clearly, lives in my head only. Thanks). I recently replaced my gargantuan ancient desktop with a compact laptop model and look! I can fit more things on the desk. Plus, this makes my desk moveable--this is home base, but I venture out in the world pretty often.

As a note, I notice that a lot of writers keep music handy. I don't, though I'm not sure why--I do enjoy and am inspired by music, especially classical, folk, and swing/jazz. I am a bit techoimpaired on the music, though, and tend to stick with CDs (how big of a fogey am I?) and those live elsewhere. I usually don't write and listen to music.

I also have a nice armchair on the room, for reading my stacks of library books. It smells kinda musty, but it should--it's pretty ancient as it came from my Grandma Ruby's house.

Notice that wine or coffee remain in easy reach while reading. Important stuff.

Because she's already been mentioned twice, a close-up shot of the photo of Grandma Ruby. Not only does she have amazing hair in this photo (talk about a lady who could carry a bob well!), she's one of my inspirations--she was a really bright woman who went out of her way for education (she moved from her hometown to live with her sister in order to go to high school). Because of when she lived and the circumstances of her life, she didn't leave behind a legacy outside her family, but she inspires me to do what I'm called to do--because I can pursue whatever I want, while she wasn't able to. This is why her photo lives on my desk.

And, as a sidenote, isn't it cool how the photo came with its own frame/stand from the photographer?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Clean Bookshelf Giveaway

I made a vast overhaul of my bookshelf this weekend. Given the limited space in our two stories of beige (aka rental townhouse) I get one bookshelf. One. Yes, this is painful, and yes, it means that most of the favorites of my youth remained boxed up at my parents' house. But the newly clean shelves and the castoffs (goodbye, old friends) inspired me:

I enjoyed these--and I'd like you to enjoy them, too!

So, for round one of the Clean Bookshelf Giveaway, in conjunction with the Alphabet Challenge from Historical Tapestry, I'm giving away the books I reviewed for the letters "B" (Mr. Timothy by Louis Bayard) and "C" (Peony in Love by Lisa See). They're very gently used high-quality paperbacks. First prize gets first pick.

Entry is easy-two entries possible for each individual:
  • Method A: Leave comment on any blog post but this one (already posted or posted between now and end of giveaway)

  • Method B: Follow this blog, or add me to your blogroll (previously added links count this time!) To be fair to those without blogger accounts, I'll only count one of these.

Do one or both, and then just leave me a comment in this post that tells me what you did. Thanks for playing! I'll leave this open from today until January 31.

Just for kicks, a peek at some of the non-book items I keep displayed on this shelf:

Display shelves--emphasis on eighteenth century miscellany. The handpainted box has to share a shelf with my CS Lewis and my cookbooks.

Closer look at the handpainted box--this was my favorite wedding gift, which a friend did for us. The painted versions of my husband and I actually look quite a bit like us!

Finally, the powder horn my father, an amazing scrimshander, made for my husband. It's sharing the shelf with a reproduction pistol, also a wedding gift (what the giver intended by that, I'm not quite sure...). The top is a common Revolutionary War era image of a hand holding thirteen arrows, for thirteen colonies united in rebellion. The text is lines from the Declaration "That all men are created equal." The bottom photo shows a "Peaceable Kingdom" scene, in which animals coexist with one another on a pastoral background (in this case, Mount Vernon and a seascape with ships), based on the scripture in Isaiah (lion shall lay with the calf, etc).

Thanks for playing, and I hope to share these books with two of you!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Writerly Update

*Had a crazy productive weekend--5000 words, blame football. Yes, when teams my husband likes are playing, I become a football widow. Don't feel too sorry--it breeds productivity.

*Completely inspired for the ballet scene I wanted to write by this:

OK, I know little to nothing about ballet (except that, according to one of my best friend's sister, a professional dancer, I have ballerina feet--who knew?). But I know that this is absolute sheer beauty.

*Still have a full and a partial out with agents. Didn't hear from agent I was really hoping would dig my query and it's been two weeks. Need to realize I should send more than 12 queries before beginning to tear my own hair out. Beginning to truly loathe waiting.

*Learning that productivity is addictive. I don't want to go to work at all this week--I want to sit in my room, brooding and typing and going through too much coffee and wine. Mustn't waste the last hours of the holiday weekend

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Peeking at Ladies' Underthings

This pair of stays is rocking my world.

Let's chat for a moment on why these are so fab, shall we? First--the fabric. This, friends, is indulgence--the La Perla, the Agent Provocateur of the eighteenth century. This is underwear made of silk damask. Clearly, this is a garment for a well-to-do lady. Middling sorts would have had stays made of linen; the poorest even wore leather stays.

These are not only of a luxurious fabric, but the cut is very fashionable, too. The front will lay nearly flat when the stays are laced, the bosom will be "fluffed" as we jokingly refer to it, and the torso will be molded into a conical shape, the shoulders pulled back by the straps.

A few points on these. First, the high bosom. Notice the horizontal stitching, which is either reinforcing or boning casings. Earlier stays mostly have only vertical boning, but these put a horizontal band in which would have lifted the bosom and put additional emphasis there, which appears to be a later development in eighteenth-century corsetry.

As for the conical torso. We often think of corsets as creating hourglass figures, but this is not a corset--this is a pair of eighteenth century stays. The point is not curve, but cone. I could get into a lot of my cockamamey theories on how the cult of domesticity and heightened belief that women were weak critters can be traced through the increasingly feminizing corsets of the Victorian Era, but I'll skip it for now and just note this : A woman wearing this pair of stays would have stood with exceptional posture, with a figure based more on angles than curves, and her shoulders back.

About those shoulders. Upper-class stays like these often include shoulder straps, which would have trained the shoulders back for what your grandma would praise as great posture, but also would have limited movement. Working women (farmers, tradesmen's wives, the women who had hard days of manual labor) would have been impeded by this, so seem to have skipped them more often than not.

Some other time, I'll launch into how I plan to make a very similar pair to replace my worn-out ten-year-old stays, and how (no really) they aren't terribly uncomfortable. But for now, I'm just going to bask in how lovely these are.

Photograph from the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

C is for....

Chen, the family name of the main character in Peony in Love by Lisa See (response to Historical Tapestry's Alphabet Challenge)

I picked up Peony in Love with a fair bit of anticipation. I had read Snow Flower and the Secret Fan years ago and remembered it fondly (I was on my honeymoon in Jamaica at the time, though, so I also remember the mild case of food poisoning I got on that trip with fondness--just saying, not the best gauge). In addition, the concept--that the story builds around a famous Chinese opera called The Peony Pavillion--was also intriguing. I like novels that play on mythology or older stories, like C.S. Lewis' 'Til We Have Faces, based off of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, so the concept was fascinating to me. Set in seventeenth-century China, the book follows Peony as she prepares to marry out, only to fall in love, reorienting the course of her life--and beyond.

One bit of trouble that using a source so poorly-known to a Western audience as this, however, is that the nuances of the old story get lost unless you make them very obvious. It's not as though the author is putting in shades of Cinderella--the general audience, me included, isn't going to have any familiarity with The Peony Pavillion. So, while I enjoyed the concept and much of how it played into the book, I often felt that I had to be led too much in order to be in on the secret.

See's writing is very pretty in spots, and I really enjoyed how it evolved with the narrator, sixteen-year-old Peony, as she matures and changes over the course of Part One of the book. As she becomes more introverted as her marriage approaches, her voice takes on a poetic, ethereal quality. At the same time, the exotic elements that I enjoyed reading and learning about for the first time in Snow Flower, such as the descriptions of footbinding, were less entrancing the second time around.

Using C for Chen is especially fitting given that the family becomes a vital force in the book, propelling elements of the story. It also serves as the setting for Part One, as Peony never leaves the Chen family villa for the course of her young life.

Not wishing to give much away, I won't go into Parts Two and Three...but this is where things fell apart for me. I still enjoyed the book, but the latter two-thirds enters paranormal territory that I'm less entranced with than the "real" flesh-and-blood world. The religious/mythological elements were often interesting to read, but I would have preferred a story that remained grounded in the fascinating historical setting that See created in Part One.

Friday, January 8, 2010

In which I enter a contest on a whim...

...and am chosen as a finalist!

A couple days ago I was reading vital internet-disseminated information (ie, perusing blogs) while at work (no, not while at work...wait, I didn't say that...) and came across a fun contest on Nathan Bransford's blog in honor of the release of his client's book, The Secret Year. The challenge was to write a diary entry or letter (something vaguely epistolary, in any case) in the voice of a teenager.

Seeing as I was at work during the slowest time of year, I thought it would be fun to type something out, and this is what I came up with:

May 5, 1780
Full sun, unseasonably warm

I know it is an awfully uncharitable thing to think, but I cannot be in the room with Aunt Madeleine’s spoilt children for more than five minutes before I start to wonder if Swift’s Modest Proposal could be tested in our household. Perhaps this is why Mother protested so violently to Father allowing me to read modern writings, though I believe the primary reason to lie more solidly in her own inability to read any but the most elementary of compositions. Anyone knows that I am most conscientious to avoid prideful thought or uncharitable comparison, but I cannot escape the fact that my mother not only far less educated but less inclined to education than I. Regardless, I shall be escaping ever the more often to the library to escape Ophelia and Cornelius (are those not the silliest names you can imagine bestowing upon children?) as they will be with us for another fortnight.

Perhaps I am in a particularly foul mood on the subject of those children as it is on their account that I am being kept from the dinner party at the Greenes’ next Thursday evening. Mother thought it a delightful idea that I remain at home and watch the miniature terrors so that Madeleine could attend the party. I protested that my old nursemaid would be better suited to the task, but as she is now the plantation’s pastry cook Mother felt she would be kept too busy at her own tasks to properly manage the children, too. In addition, she felt it would be beneficial to my moral character and maternal instinct to watch them. Maternal instinct, indeed! As though one could feel maternal toward a pair of sticky-handed demons.

It is almost as though Mother knows that Betty Greene has been contriving to arrange dancing after dinner, and to provide her middle brother for my partner. Betty can think of no better amusement than match-making her brothers away to her dearest friends, hoping, I suppose, that she can eventually add us as sisters. It is not that I find Jerome Greene terribly appealing—he is too short, for one, and his red hair does not suit him—but it would be nice to dance for an evening like a proper adult. No, instead I am chained to a pair of prattling, screaming Lilliputians. It seems that everyone around me is permitted some acquiescence toward adulthood—my brother joining the Congressional forces of his own volition, Betty with her little dance parties. I must content myself with books, I suppose.

Just as a lark, really--but I was thrilled to be chosen as one of five finalists from over 500 entries! It was definitely the confidence booster I needed during a very slow winter in the uplift department. Plus, finalists get a query letter critique from Nathan--though I've been using my current query and getting some response, I will definitely appreciate getting an expert point of view.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

New Strategy for the New Year

In my ideal writing world, I'd be one of those people who writes a couple thousand words a day on a neat little schedule, with breaks during sacred untouchable writing time for refilling my coffee mug only. In this picture there are also cats and a large picture window in the room, if that helps at all. Unfortunately, I'm not yet one of those people. I don't have a set time to write, and I don't see that changing anytime soon between work, volunteer, and family responsibilities. Besides, I thrive on a little variety.

So instead of scheduling time to write and setting short-term goals (I tried that last year, and it lasted about a fortnight before divebombing into failure), I'm trying something different. I'm recording what I accomplish every day in an otherwise unused day planner, reserving goals for the long-term (one benchmark to work towards noted every couple months) My mother gives me day planners every year for Christmas, and while I found these helpful in college, my life doesn't revolve around those kinds of deadlines and timetables anymore. The little lines will now be filled (hopefully) with notations like "1000 words this afternoon" and "edited 20 pages" and "posted blog entry." My hope is that looking back at those small steps while looking ahead to bigger goals will keep me motivated and moving forward.

And at least I'll have a use for that silly day planner!

I wonder what other sorts of systems folks employ to organize their goals and time pursuing those goals. Sharing welcome :)

Monday, January 4, 2010

Spring Ensemble

The bite of the wind tonight made me wish a bit for spring even though winter's barely begun--and then I found this positively primeveral ensemble.

Do you know what I love about this little outift? Other than the meticulously quited petticoat (scallops, friends--imagine stitching all those tiny scallops--not even straight lines!)? And the adorably tucked pink jacket? And the little pink-piped slippers? Alright, I love most of it. But what I love the most is how springtime fresh it is, how the pieces go together just beautifully without being matchy-matchy, and how I can really imagine an eighteenth century girl (let's be honest--no one above about 20 could pull this off with the necessary effervescence) picking it out to wear. Clearly, it would be her favorite outfit.

A couple things to notice: The short-ish petticoat. One of my costume pet-peeves is the insistance in historical novels and films that women ran about with floor-length skirts all the time. Not so at all--in fact, the late eighteenth century embraced a shorter skirt as the norm for daywear, all the better to stroll in the countryside with, my dear. (And, of course, for the lower to middling sort, skirts longer than the ankles were entirely impractical--it's annoying enough to schlep a few layers of wool to keep warm with, let alone dragging it down with a layer of mud on the hem from dragging it through the muck.) Another point to pick up is how the derriere is enhanced by that lovely layered ruffle, a nod to fashion's reorientation of panier-created fullness at the hips to false-rump fullness at the back. Simple, yet enchanting.
I imagine the wearer of this ensemble going for a jaunt in someone's garden, probably with a flirty straw hat perched on her curled hair, most certainly smelling lilacs. Where do you see her going?
Images from, from the Costume Institute.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Closets (and the exiting thereof)

A few years ago, a friend told me about a unique commemoration of the National Day of Silence that was held at her university. The idea was, instead of being silent, to say something of particular importance--to come out of the closet. They built a doorway in one of the central quads, and invited anyone who wanted to to walk through the doorway and say something--anything--that they had been keeping a secret. Everyone has things they don't share with others, whether out of legitimate fear of discrimination or just of looking silly or being embarrassed. Most people came out of pretty petty closets--that they harbored private adulation of Star Trek, that they still hated to eat their vegetables. But some people did come clean on bigger things, too.

I was a fascinated by the concept of openness, and the idea of celebrating the freedom of coming out of our self-imposed closets. Sometimes we put such weight on the things we keep secret--even on some big things it's often unwarranted. I've had one person come out of the closet with me--"the" closet, not the "I secretly love eating straight butter" closet--and while I respect how difficult it was for him to do so, you know what? For 95% of the people who know him, it not only didn't change our opinion but we already kinda knew anyway.

So I thought about what I would say if I walked through that doorway from nowhere into openness. What do most people not know about me that's intrinsic to who I am and how I function?

I write novels.

Yeah, they're not published. They might never be. But I write them and I'm working toward publication, so it's fair to say: I write novels.

And because this is something that's pretty important in my life right now, I'll be blogging about it more. For one, I could use the support and ya'll knowing what's going on. More so, writing helps me explore and process--so writing out some of my thoughts on, well, writing might just help out the bigger picture, too.

What would you say if you walked through that doorway? Something worth thinking about as a new year opens up in front of us!